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True Grist

Sorry, I have to dissent from True Grit's fans.  This is not a film that anyone who loves our country could much admire.  (But I didn't much care for the original John Wayne version, either, which was a kind of caricature of Wayne.)  Since my reasoning involves a kind of a plot spoiler, I'll put that in the comments below.  The Coen brothers are superb filmmakers, but their political attitudes are predictable.
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TG is Mattie's story, and what we see at the end is a broken, one-armed old maid. What became of the vivacious girl? Rooster is a one-eyed warrior--a kind of frontier Cyclops. What was he like as a youth? Civilizing America ruins its best souls. The conclusion can't stop us from loving both characters, but the effect of the movie is to bring us down. I haven't read the novel nor seen the Coen brothers' No Country for Old Men (but I have read that novel). Perhaps someone who has seen both these movies can comment on how they use biblical imagery--I would be curious.

I guess I don't quite understand the criticism. I don't see her as "broken" at the end. One-armed? Certainly. Old maid? Indisputably? But -- my feminist biases aside -- I don't think that's presented as quite the tragedy Ken Thomas makes it out to be. What am I missing here?

Don't you think something promising was lost?

I haven't read the Portis novel -- I ordered it immediately after seeing this version of the film. I've heard the Coens' tried to hew more closely to the book, which was published in 1968.

"What became of the vivacious girl?"

Seems like she sought retribution, and she got it.

"Civilizing America ruins its best souls."

I'm not sure "civilizing" and "ruin" are the right words, but assuming responsibility clearly takes a toll. I came away thinking this is what self-government looks like, and this is also why it's so difficult to sustain for very long.

Mattie was defending herself.
Your self-government angle is worthy of reflection, but the situation occurs in a state of nature. Liberty Valance is a better description of the transition from pre-political to political. The film goes from pre-political to post-modern (the carnival where real westerners play at being western).

I was thinking about The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, too. I'm not sure the situation in True Grit occurs in a state of nature, however. Is it correct to call it "pre-political" or something more akin to primitively political? Law is clearly ascendant. Courts are functioning. Mattie has powerful legal recourse with the horse trader, for example. Outlaws like Tom Chaney and Lucky Ned Pepper cannot operate without fear of justice, the way Liberty Valance could.

You make an interesting point about post-modernism, but you do know the Great Cole Younger & Frank James Historical Wild West Show was a real thing, right? Two former outlaws made a nice living near the end of their lives trading on their disreputable past -- proving F. Scott Fitzgerald wrong even before he put the thought to paper.

Peter Lawler focuses on the Confederate heroes of TG and understands the movie in light of the weaknesses of the South:

Just read Lawler's post, and the Allen Barra review to which he linked. I think that understanding is interesting, but not quite right. As you point out, it's Mattie's story. Then again, maybe I didn't fully appreciate the lawlessness of the Indian territory. I think I need to see the movie again, and read the book (not necessarily in that order). Lawler is right, however, that the Coens "more than flirt" with nihilism. That's pretty much been the name of their game since Raising Arizona.

It's difficult for me not to regard this film so highly, given my diet of movies in 2010 has consisted largely of animated kiddie fare. I mean, Toy Story 3 was good and all, but gee whiz...

My main problem is that this film should never be remade. John Wayne owns the character, the only time in his long career that his peers chose to honor him with an actual Oscar for acting a specific role. The mold is broken; the jersey should be retired.

And how anyone could think that Kim Darby's performance could be improved on? I'm confusticated. Her performance was a perfect blend of Calvinism and naivete, absolutely perfect for that film.

I feel about this remake the way I feel about using digital wizardry to resurrect dead actors to hawk products on TV. Wrong wrong wrong.

True Grit 2 fans, you're in the net of Stanley Fish:

Eat Fish and die! He likes the movie because it's both Christian and nihilistic!

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Peter Lawler roars back, at his new blogging site:

I have no idea what Ken Thomas means. The old men who travel with Rooster say they had "lively times" with him, and Mattie replies that she did as well. They share this in common. Their exchange seems to suggest that Rooster never lost his touch, ie, that he was never "civilized."

And Mattie doesn't care what people think when she moves Rooster's grave. She gives him a proper burial (contrast with the dude Rooster killed who never got his requested burial). She's a bit like Antigone.

Those are good observations about the film. Well, Antigone never married either! Not a good comparison for the case you evidently want to make!

What's marriage got to do with it?

I'm not necessarily trying to make a case, but I don't think it can be said that the film is anti-American, or anything like that. If anything, it is a lot gentler than No Country was.

Dick Cheney Hates America (no surprise there though)

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